BERLIN – Germany opposes the “unwise” European Commission decision to label products from the West Bank, Golan and Jerusalem, Bundestag President Prof. Norbert Lammert said Wednesday.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also addressed the labeling issue in his speech to the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Edelstein quoted Heinrich Heine, who said that “in a place where books are burned, people will be burned.”
He added: “I fear that in a place where products are labeled by where they were produced, will one day label people by where they come from.”
“The bleak history taught us the meaning of discriminatory labeling and to where it can deteriorate,” Edelstein said.
“Europe has become fertile ground for BDS organizations that are using the inappropriate means of economic and academic boycotts against Israel.”
Edelstein said BDS and its ilk “slander Israel in the name of supposed humanitarian principles, but in practice act according to a double standard and with prejudice and blind hatred.
“I hope Germany will serve as a guiding light to other countries,” he said.
Lammert had avoided the subject of settlement products labeling at a joint news conference at the Bundestag with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, until Edelstein brought it up.
“We had a very interesting discussion on the product labeling decision that Germany opposed in the first place, but the EU still adopted,” Edelstein said.
“In our conversation, the question of whether [the decision] was motivated by anti-Semitism or not came up, and we disagreed, and we also did not quite agree on whether [labeling] will have destructive results or somehow bring some good.”
“Maybe now the president and members of the Bundestag will understand Israeli sensitivity to the issue,” Edelstein added.
Lammert called the labeling “unnecessary and unwise.”
“Germany not only didn’t agree to the decision, it rejected it,” Lammert said.
But, Lammert said, “it doesn’t come from anti-Semitism. We have to understand the situation in the occupied territories is complicated, because of international law.”
When asked whether the EU’s not having called to label products from places like Tibet or Crimea or the Western Sahara was an indication of anti-Semitism, Lammert said he could “understand Israel’s anger.”
“Germany can imagine a better law, if it were to apply to everyone, on principle, to all occupied land,” he added.
“Because it’s specifically against Israel, I repeat that it is unnecessary and not very smart.”
Lammert also remarked about the pressures faced by Berlin department store KaDeWe for removing unlabeled bottles of Golan wines from its shelves, a decision it later reversed.
He thought the experience would deter other businesses from repeating the step.
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) thought Edelstein and Lammert’s meeting with their deputies, in which MKs conveyed their concerns about labeling, was productive.
Hasson said that at first the German MPs did not understand why Israel reacted so strongly to the labeling.
“They came with an attitude of ‘help us respond,’” to criticism of Israel and the labeling issue, Hasson said. “I told them, as a supporter of a two-state solution, that Israelis are losing faith in, labeling makes them feel like the world is against us no matter what we do.”
“I also pointed out that labeling will hurt more Palestinians than Israelis. It won’t really harm our economy. The fact that we will sell 40 bottles of wine instead of 100 isn’t what’s significant,” Hasson said, alluding to jobs Palestinians have at settlement enterprises.
MP Elisabeth Motschmann (CDU), a member of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committees, also discussed labeling in a briefing with Israeli journalists in Berlin.
“Germany has a special responsibility towards Israel, but there are critical positions towards settlements,” she said.
Still, Motschmann said labeling is “not my policy,” and that she would buy products without looking at where they are from.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier “doesn’t want” labeling, she added.
The EU delegation to Israel said in response that “the Commission expects all member states to comply with EU legislation.”
The directive says that enforcement of labeling is the member states’ responsibility and that infringement proceedings may be held if the decision is not enforced.
German-Israel Association President Helmut Konigshaus, a former MP, said his organization is pressing Germany to demand cancellation of the labeling directive.
Konigshaus described recent efforts by BDS activists in Bremen, Germany, who impersonated EU inspectors and entered supermarkets, demanding all Israeli products be removed from shelves if they are not specially labeled as settlement products.
“This is very similar to what we saw in the past, people saying not to buy from Jews. The only difference is they wore white and not brown,” he said.
Konigshaus said canceling the directive is the only way to solve the problem because Germany always implements European regulations.
Edelstein’s speech also touched on the fight against radical Islam, which he said exemplifies Prof. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theory.
“We are in a worldwide religious and cultural war,” he said. “The ground is shaking beneath us, time is not on our side and we do not have the privilege to remain apathetic.
This is a total, uncompromising and war without borders, and its results will determine the future of mankind for generations.”
Edelstein called for the world to realize that the Middle East conflict is not just about Israel, it is a “global fight between the democratic West and murderous radical Islam.”
He said Iran is able to develop nuclear weapons without the world noticing, because it is distracted by Islamic State.
“Many enlightened states, including our allies in this clash of civilizations, have yet to understand closing their eyes to extremism and violence harms them like a boomerang,” Edelstein added.
Edelstein spoke out against Palestinians who try to compare Israel to the Nazis, saying it is “part of an audacious industry of lies run by radical Islamists against Israel everywhere, in mosques, schools, the press and social media.
“Some lessons apparently were not learned, even after 70 years,” he said.
“The Israel-Arab conflict is not like any other conflict, because it is one-directional,” Edelstein said.
“Israel has nothing against the Arabs and it has very narrow borders, existing peacefully in the heart of enemy states... We want life, but radical Islam worships death. We want to create hope, but others are proud of sowing fear.”
Edelstein said that Israel’s “hand is outstretched to talk to whoever respects it and is willing to set aside hatred,” and maintained that Israel- German relations are proof that this is possible.